No field of American literature seems to beckon to a certain class of aspiring writers with more impelling force than the American Indian, his life, his customs, his culture, his religious rites and ceremonies, his history and, lastly, leis "problem," which the white man has been vainly attempting to "solve," with wise propositions, big appropriations and entrenched bureaucracy for many, many years. Numerous valuable treatises have been written concerning the people of the native American race by persons who were thoroughly competent to do so, as the result of long association and thorough acquaintance with Indians and Indian work. Unfortunately, not all books concerning Indians are based upon such personal acquaintance and accurate knowledge. Superficial, second-hand information, worked over at long range from original sources, does not always result, in thoroughness or enlightening value from either scientific or historical viewpoints.
Such thoughts are suggested by a cursory examination of a recently issued volume entitled "the Story of the Red Man," by Flora Warren Seymour, A. B., LL. B., LL. M., Member of the Board of Indian Commissioners. Without discussing the strictly literary phases of the volume, its blitheness, (that shades almost into flippancy) and its studied rhetorical effect, it will suffice to discuss the historical accuracy and spirit of fairness manifested. Possibly this may be done effectively by quoting verbatim, (including its punctuation) the author’s narrative of part of the history of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, during the latter portion of 1864. This quotation is Subdivision 3, of Chapter XIV (pp. 377-81) the essential portions of which read as follows:
"These were lively days for the warriors of the plains. Where the Sioux left off raiding the Cheyenne and Arapaho braves began. Below them thousands of Kiowa and Comanche kept the trails well watched.1 Travel beyond the Kansas frontier was always dangerous and often impossible. The Territory of New Mexico and her newly formed sister
1The author might have more appropriately used the word "hundreds" rather than "thousands" in stating the number of Comanche and Kiowa warriors who were "watching the trials." It is doubtful if the Comanche and Koiwa tribes combined could have mustered more than 1,504 warrior, in 1884.
territory, Colorado, found themselves often without means of communication with the East, without needed supplies, without protection.2
"Actual invasion by troops of the Confederacy had been turned back after a battle or two. But this portent of the hostile braves was no question of pitched battle and single sharp engagements. It was a daily menace to travel and communication. It threatened something like siege to the remote villages of mountain or desert whose dependence was all upon food and munitions brought by pack trains across the prairies.3
"Bent’s fort had disappeared these ten years past. Colonel William Bent, finding the United States Government unwilling to buy it at a satisfactory price, blew it up one fine day and abandoned the site.4 Somewhat farther down, the military had set up Fort Wise5 Here had been made a treaty with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, nominally confining them to a three-sided reservation angling out toward the plains.6 With the coming of the Civil
2The assertion that New Mexico and Colorado were often "without means of communication with the East, without needed supplies and without protection," is an exaggeration, to say the least. True, communications were sometimes interrupted, supplies scarce and protection meagre, but neither was ever entirely lacking.
3Pack trains across the prairies" had disappeared when wagon trains were first introduced, forty years before the period under discussion. Pack trains were still used in the mountains but never "across the prairies."
4Colonel William Bent is believed to have offered to sell his trading post to the Government about the time that it purchased Fort Laramie, which was in 1849. He did not destroy it until three years later. He probably did so then because his trade had declined at that place and hey wished to establish a new post lower down on the river. Consult "Bent’s Old Fort and its Builders," by George Bird Grinnell, Kansas Historical "Collections," Vol. XV, pp. 81-2.
5Bent’s New Fort was built, in 1853, thirty-eight miles below the site of his Old Fort. Instead of Fort wise being "set up" by the military, as stated by the author, the Government leased the new Bent’s Fort from its owner and garrisoned it for military purposes. Ibid., pp. 85-7.
6The reservation assigned to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian tribes, under the terms of the treaty negotiated in a council held at Fort Wise and signed on February 18, 1861, consisted of approximately 3,687,000 acres, ninety-four per cent of which was located between the Arkansas River and Big Sandy Creek, the remainder being south of the Arkansas and west of the Purgatory (or Las Animas) River and the whole bounded on the west by a line drawn from the north to south through the mouth of the Huerfano River. This treaty was signed by Albert G. Boone, United States Indian Agent and Commissioner, and by F. B. Culver, Commissioner and Special Agent: the signatories on behalf of the Indian tribes included Black Kettle and White Antelope (both Cheyenne), Little Raven, Storm, Big Mouth and Left Hand (all Arapaho) and several of less note. This reservation did not "angle out toward the plains." On the contrary, it was wholly included within the limits of the Great Plains region.-
War Wise joined the Confederacy and the Fort which had borne his name was rechristened Fort Lyon.7
"Discovery of gold in the Rockies had brought a rush of miners in ’59, resulting in the creation of the Territory of Colorado in the following year.8 These were days of overland freighting and the pony express, with both of which institutions Indian fighting played frequent havoc.
"Opinions are sharply divided on the events which led up to the so-called 'Chivington massacre.'9 One may read unsparing condemnation of the soldiers who came down from Denver to their bloody work. On the other hand, there are still to be found in Colorado old residents who maintain stoutly that the Indians didn’t get half they deserved on that November morning in 1864.
"In the spring Governor Evans of the territory had issued a proclamation urging friendly Indians to go to the protection of the soldiery and the Indian agent at Fort Lyon, and there to refrain from, wandering and murdering upon the plains.10 During the summer season his procla-
7The name of Fort Wise was not changed immediately following the outbreak of the Civil War. On the contrary, it was not renamed Fort Lyon until after General Nathaniel Lyon had been killed at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, August 10, 1861.
8The Territory of Colorado was not created the year following its great gold rush (1859). Its geographic limits were defined and its organization as a territory of the United States was provided by the terms of a Congressional enactment approved February, 28, 1861.
9It is difficult to understand how anyone who holds membership on the United States Board of Indian Commissioners can refer to the atrocious scenes which were enacted on Sand Creek, on November 29, 1864, as the "so-called 'Chivington Massacre.' " If an attack on an Indian village whose principal chief kept the Stars and Stripes floating above his lodge; if the shooting down of the chief who had been sent forth to meet the attackers with a flag of truce: if the shooting of women as, well as of warriors. aye, and of toddling little children, also; and, finally, the indescribable mutilation of the dead as fiendishly as could have been done by the most ruthless savage—if all this only constituted a "so-called messacre," then, what would constitute a real massacre?
10The governor of Colorado Territory doubtless meant well but, if so, those who advised him to give solemn warning to the people of a race who were illiterate by means of printed proclamations were scarcely competent to counsel him.
mation won no notice. Depredations, captures, and murders went on.
"There was a premeditated attack all along the stage line from the Missouri.11 Nearly every one of the relay stations suffered attack. Buildings were burned and stock driven away. Colorado Territory was cut off from communication with the states to the east.12
"In the mile-high table-land that fringes the Rockies, late September holds more than a hint of approaching winter. The lengthening frosty nights warned Black Kettle, leader of the Cheyenne, that it was time to gather into winter quarters at the agency, to receive annuities and presents, to get fresh store of ammunition in readiness for another summer.13 Accordingly, groups of his followers began to appear at Fort Lyon, professing friendliness and the desire to smoke the pipe of peace with the white man.14
"Already the military authorities had awakened to the need of action and a campaign was being prepared
11An Indian attack which was not premeditated would have been the exception and not the rule, but a "premeditated attack all along the stage line from the Missouri" would be going strong, even for an Indian war, since white settlements were fairly numerous throughout the first hundred miles west of the Missouri.
12While communications were more or less frequently interrupted on the overland trails between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains, in 1864, the statement that "Colorado Territory was cut off from communication with the states of the east" is not warranted.
13"In the mile-high table-land that fringes the Rockies, late September holds more than a hint of approaching winter," would be a much more impressive statement had the author been careful to ascertain that the Indians were congregated at a point near the headwaters of the Smoky Hill River, in Western Kansas, distant four days’ march to the northeast from Fort Lyon, at an altitude somewhat less han 4,000 feet and considerably less than "the mile-high tableland" above mentioned; also that the message from the Indian camp reached Fort Lyon on the 4th of September, indicating that it must have been dispatched from the Indian village not later than the 1st of the same month, which was rather early for the aforesaid "hint of approaching winter." Indeed, it would seem that "the lengthening frosty nights," which "warned Black Kettle," must have been "rushing the season" as it were-Consult testimony of John S Smith, Interpreter, in Report of Joint Special Committee, Appointed under Joint Resolution of March 3, 1865, Appendix, p. 51.
14The statement that "groups of his followers began to appear at Fort Lyon, professing friendliness and the desire to smoke the pipe of peace with the white man" is not warranted by the facts. Black Kettle’s peace emissaries were two Cheyenne subchiefs, One Eye and Mannimic, accompanied by the wife of one of them. No other groups or delegations were sent to Fort Lyon.—Ibid.
against the hostilities. The Indian agent bringing a party of red men up to Governor Evans at Denver, was told that the power to make peace had now passed from the Governor’s hands.15 On their part, the Indians admitted depredations in conjunction with Apache, Comanche, and Kiowa, and with thirteen different bands of Sioux who had crossed the Platte and made common cause with the other warriors of the plains. Black Kettle and White Antelope, Cheyenne chiefs, and the representatives of the Arapaho Left Hand, were now willing, they said, to take the white man by the hand. They found the white man not so willing. Governor Evans said: "The war is begun, and the power to make a treaty has passed from me to the great war chief.’
"It was November when Colonel Chivington the 'fighting parson,’ whose Colorado troops had turned back the Confederate invasion, was ready to charge upon the Indians. He made his way, not to the plains where in spite of the advanced season he might still have found some marauding parties, but to the camp on Sandy Creek where the Cheyenne and Arapaho were gathered.16
"The attack was unexpected; the Indians were badly outnumbered. The result was an indiscriminate slaughter of men, women, and children, despite, so some said, the raising by the Indian leader of the flag of the United States as a protection.17 There were scalpings and mutilations such as Indians themselves might have perpetrated. To the soldiers this seemed only a fair return for the summer
15The statement that the Indian agent took a party of Indians to Denver to see Governor Evans is inaccurate. Black Kettle, White Antelope and Bull Bear, three Cheyenne chiefs, with four Arapahoes, were escorted to Denver by Major Edward W. Wynkoop, who was post commander at Fort Lyon, for the purpose of interviewing Governor Evans.-Ibid. p. 51.
16"He (Colonel Chivington) made his way, not to the plains where in spite of the advanced season he might still have found some marauding parties, but to the camp on Sandy Creek where the Cheyenne and Arapaho were gathered." Evidently, the author does not comprehend that the Great Plains is a vast region of nearly 500,000 square miles and that, so far as being apart from the same, Sand Creek is a typical Plains stream.
17The author fails to state why the Indians encamped on Sand Creek and at whose suggestion that location had been selected for the camp. She fails to tell that Major Wynkoop was relieved from the command of Fort Lyon and that he was ordered to report at his district headquarters, at Fort Riley, 400 miles distant, virtually under arrest, because he had received the surrender of the people of this village, or that his successor, Major Anthony, presumably acting under inspiration, if not instructions, from Denver, returned the arms and horses which had been surrendered by the Indians and directed them to move over to Sand Creek and go into camp, professedly because they would be nearer the buffalo herds, but, in fact and in design, because it would not look well to have such a scene of carnage enacted too close to a garrisoned military post. She admits that the result of this "so-called massacre" was "an indiscriminate slaughter of men, women and children." The statement relative to "the raising by the Indian leader of the flag of the United States as a protection," with the attendant inference that such an act was a mere expedient, performed on the spur of the moment, after the attack on the Indian village had begun, is utterly unwarranted. A reasonable amount of investigation on the part of any unbiased and fairminded investigator would have disclosed the fact that, when Major Wynkoop was forced to leave, he told Black Kettle to keep the Stars and Stripes floating over his lodge all of the time, in token of the fact that he had surrendered and was not at war, and that Black Kettle faithfully obeyed Major Wynkoop’s injunction.
of horror. To the onlooker, especially at a distance, it was a fiendish attack upon confiding innocence.18 A Congressional investigation, the following year, brought out many statements, from which the only sure conclusion to be drawn was that the settlers and roving savages could not peaceably occupy the same territory.19
"Colonel William Bent, whom the Indians now called Grey-Beard,20 testified at this hearing. So did his oldest
18"There were scalpings and mutilations such as the Indians themselves might have perpetrated. To the soldiers this seemed only a fair return for a summer of horror. To the onlooker, especially at a distance, it was a fiendish attack upon confiding innocence." A fine bit of sarcasm directed at people who dare to call in question the nobility and valor of soldiers who had disgraced the uniform of the United States Army and dishonored the flag of their country!
19"A Congressional investigation, the following year, brought out many statements, from which the only sure conclusion to be drawn was that the settlers and roving savages could not peaceably occupy the same territory." The author may have read the "many statements," but seemingly skipped the conclusion of the Congressional investigating committee. Likewise, she makes no mention of the fact that in the treaty between the United States and the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, which was concluded in the autumn of 1865, the Sand Creek affair was specifically disavowed by the Government and a promise of certain reparations was made. To this author’s way of thinking, however, the result of the Congressional investigation was only a stand-off.
20Colonel William Bent, whom the Indians now called "Grey-Beard," testified at this hearing." The only thing wrong with this statement is the fact that Colonel Bent always faced the world clean-shaven—his portraits bear evidence to that effect to this day. Gray Beard was the name applied by the Cheyenne and Arapaho people to Colonel Albert Gallatin Boone (a grandson of Daniel Boone, the great pioneer of Kentucky and Missouri), who was their Government agent, from 1859 to 1861 and for whom they entertained great respect and affection.
half-Cheyenne son, Robert, who had been interpreter to Chivington’s command. Bent’s two younger sons, George and Charles, were in the Sand Creek camp when it was attacked. They escaped to become leaders of fierce-marauding bands in the years of plains-fighting that followed21.
"Colonel Chivington thought that he had killed Black Kettle and won for himself a general’s star. He was mistaken in both assumptions. Black Kettle lived to fight the whites through other summer campaigns and died in another winter raid made by General Custer on the Washita, four years later."22
It is to be regretted that a most reputable publishing house should have permitted itself to be victimized and induced to give currency to such a slipshod literary production because its writer had capitalized a tenure in a quasi-official position. Regrettable as all this may be, however, it is even more to be deplored than the credulity of the reading public, which is not always in a position to be discriminating on such matters, must be imposed upon by such a compilation of misinformation. If the rest of the volume fell as far short in historical accuracy and fairness, a critical review of the whole book would scarcely be justified if one were to attempt to refute all misstatements and correct all errors. Incidentally, it may be remarked that it would seem that a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners should at least be fair and unbiased in her or his attitude toward the Indian people, instead of viewing them with prejudice, which, in this instance, seems to be so thinly veiled as to cause even a lay reader to wonder how such a selection came to be made.
-JOSEPH B. THOBURN.
21The statement that George and Charles Bent were "leaders of fierce marauding bands" of Indian warriors is not warranted by the facts. Charley Bent may have led a small party for a brief time, but he was still but little more than a youth at the time of his death. There is no evidence upon which to base even an assumption that George Bent ever became a hostile leader.
22The statement that "Black Kettle lived to fight the whites through other summer campaigns," is utterly without foundation in fact. On the contrary, there is abundant evidence to sustain the belief that he never again participated in hostilities after he surrendered to Major wynkoop, at Fort Lyon, in September, 1864. It would seem that life had held sufficient in the way of tragedy for him without heaping undeserved obloquies upon his name and reputation.